It being the bye week and close to the midway in the season, I thought it was a good time for a little season-to-date reflection. Here are three players who've been better than expected, three players who’ve been disappointing, and three who’ve been up and down. I did some consulting with Profootballfocus.com for this (probably the best site I know for grading non-skill position players) but a lot of this is just watching and re-watching games and seeing who shows up making plays, who shows up making mistakes, and who flat-out disappears (usually not a good sign).
We all celebrated when DeMeco Ryans was signed (finally a MLB!). But a preseason that was perceived as slow by some brought back that Eagles fans trademark pessimism: He was hurt in 2010 and had only 64 tackles in 2009, is this guy still the same player he was early in his career? Why would Houston let him go if he was really as good as we’ve been told? Reports that the Eagles were planning to only use him on two downs compounded these feelings.
Well as it turns out DeMeco Ryans has been better than expected. You don't really need stats because any Eagles fan has to notice his name gets called on every other run play, but just for shits and gigs: He's on pace for 125 tackles and profootballfocus.com has him as the 5th best inside LB behind Sean Lee, Darryl Washington, Patrick Willis, and Navarro Bowman. He isn't his best in coverage (Victor Cruz slant) but we brought him here because we needed an experienced leader on defense, a run stuffer, and a smart player who knew where to be. He has emphatically been all three.
Nate Allen was one of the biggest question marks coming into the season. He had showed promise by winning NFL Rookie of the Month in the first half of 2010, only to promptly get hurt and then spend most of last year getting burnt by Tight Ends the rare times when he was actually in the right position. Which Nate Allen would show this year?
So far I've seen much more 2010 Nate than 2011. He seems to be getting to the ball in coverage, breaking up a number of deep balls. I've noticed him stepping up and making plays in run support. And I'm going without stats on this one but it seems like Tight Ends have been much less of an issue for the Eagles this season (*with Allen on the field).
Now this is all my opinion. Profootballfocus has him rated as one of the worst starting safeties in football. I'd actually like to hear if fans think that I'm missing mistakes he has made. But as far as I'm concerned Nate Allen has been solid.
*I would add that Detroit’s comeback at the end of the game timed up perfectly with Allen’s injury, and that two of the bigger completions were to TE Tony Scheffler.
I think many Eagles fans were ready to part with DeSean after last season. It was pretty obvious without a contract that Jackson put his self ahead of the team and played not to get hurt, something many fans found despicable. However the logic remained that DeSean Jackson when motivated has been the best playmaker at WR the Eagles have had since....IDK Harold Carmichael? (I'm only 23, I can’t think of anyone except maybe Irving Fryar for one year)
DeSean Jackson was paid this offseason and he has responded with some of the more solid receiving of his career. He is on pace for career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (1240). He has shown that despite being 160 pounds he doesn't mind taking a hit. He also seems to have cut down on some of the bone-head behavior that has marked his tenure here. Overall I think most Eagles fans would agree that with Maclin's injuries the Eagles would be in trouble if they hadn’t kept D-Jax.
This is probably one of the most disappointing aspects of the Eagles season to me. It doesn't get much safer than drafting a 28-year old guard in the first round. You figure the guy will at least be an above average starter fairly quickly. I don't know exactly what the problem is but he absolutely has to be better. We only have three of our original offensive linemen remaining. Herremans and Mathis have been solid and Watkins needs to be as well. We knew because of injuries that our offensive line wouldn't be the same dominant unit as last year, but for the Eagles to make the playoffs they have to at least be average. Marked improvement from Watkins is our best hope to reach that level of play.
While I rated Watkins as the most disappointing of the three, Trent Cole to me is the most worrisome. Trent Cole has been a flat-out beast since he put on an Eagles uniform. He made plays whether it was Darren Howard, Juqua Thomas, or Juqua Howard across from him. He made plays whether it was Jim Johnson, Sean McDermott, or Juan Castillo at coordinator. For six seasons he averaged 62.5 tackles and 10.5 sacks with very little variation. His WORST season statistically he had 62 tackles, 8 sacks, and scored a touchdown. So why this year through 6 games does he have only 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks? (Pace of: 24-4). Double-teams? You can't tell me he's getting double-teamed more with Fletcher Cox and Jason Babin on the line as he has been his whole career. Not on the field as much? Then he should be more fresh and effective when he is, which clearly hasn't been the case.
Trent Cole has never been a guy who took plays off, never been a guy who forgot about playing the run to pad his sacks statistics, so I don't think it could ever be lack of effort or heart. To me it comes down to one of two things: A) He is simply in a slump (even great pass rushers go through them) and he will explode in the 2nd half or B) he is 30 years old now, has basically been producing way above where his size and speed indicate he should for years. His body is starting to wear down. Let’s hope for A.
*I know Juqua Howard and Juqua Parker are the same person.
Andy Reid/Marty Mornhinweg
I thought about giving this spot to Mike Vick but in reality: Don't we know who Mike Vick is at this point? He has amazing athleticism and arm strength, average accuracy, and poor awareness. That's who he is, that's who he's going to be. So instead I'm giving this one to the Eagles offensive minds, who to this point in the year have been “pulling a Norv”.
Definition of Pulling a Norv: Taking a team with playmakers on both sides of the ball, consistently outgaining teams, but failing to turn yards into points and/or wins. Examples: San Diego Chargers 2008, 2010, 2011.
I’ve been a huge Andy Reid supporter his entire tenure, but this to me has been his worst coaching job. For an offensive coach to only produce 17 points per game is inexcusable. Offensive Line injuries? Show me a team who doesn’t have them. A good coach gets things done with what he has and there are plenty of coaches out there who would salivate at the chance to work with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy. As far as the Mike Vick turnovers, Andy knows what Vick brings by this point. Find a way to get him in better situations (particularly near the goal line).
I’m not really sure where Mornhinweg’s influence starts and Reid’s ends so I would just say that if the Eagles offense doesn’t start producing more than it’s probably time to move on for both of them.
*One thing: Is it possible that starting a season of high expectations in a high-stress profession a couple weeks after the death of your SON is too much to ask of a person? I don’t have kids and I respect Andy for honoring his obligations, but I can’t imagine that it isn’t affecting him.
THREE IN THE MIDDLE
DRC was one of the big x-factors for the Eagles this year. He has been an up and down player his entire career, but when motivated and in the right position he has as much potential as any corner in football. He begins the season by embarrassing any receiver the Browns put across from him. With the exception of one long catch he smothers Torrey Smith. Against the Steelers he holds Mike Wallace to 41 yards.
But there’ve just been too many penalties to extend drives, too many mistakes at inopportune times. We all remember the obvious Pass Interference call on the Giants last drive… Another play: OT against the Lions. A holding call against the Lions immediately gives the Eagles new life by pushing them back to the 44 with First and 20. DRC immediately lets Calvin Johnson take a simple drag route for 18 yards, effectively ending the game. That play showed a lack of effort and understanding of the situation, two things the Eagles need him to improve.
Mychal Kendricks is almost unfair to put on this list. He started the season with three solid games and he’s a rookie so we expect him to make mistakes. Getting beat by Mendenhall in the open field is forgivable. But also as a rookie we expect him to show flashes of the talent that made him a top pick, and in the past three games he hasn’t shown enough of that. The Eagles have played three teams with suspect offensive lines the past three games. I felt strongly that the Eagles front four and linebackers could dominate the trenches, and it didn’t happen. At times it seemed like DeMeco Ryans was the only one finding the ballcarrier. Once again it seems unfair to put this on Kendricks when we have so many veterans on the line who haven’t played up to expectations. But the post-draft hype, strong preseason, and occasional Lance Briggs comparisons had us thinking we were getting a playmaker, and so far I haven’t seen it…Look for Kendricks to play better if Bowles introduces a more aggressive system.
Take out the Detroit game and Nnamdi would probably be leading the “Three Down” list instead. That’s what happens when you get elite player money yet we can’t trust you to guard Jacoby Jones and Domenick Hixon without fouling. When the Eagles elected to put Brandon Boykin on Antonio Brown in crunch time instead of Nnamdi I really hit rock bottom. Is this guy even above average?
But to me the Detroit game reminded me that Nnamdi does have usefulness, He had Calvin Johnson in man-coverage for seven targets. Of those Johnson had two catches (including an incredible sideline catch when Nnamdi initially had him coverage but he broke loose as Stafford bought time), and Nnamdi had three breakups, a forced offensive interference penalty, and an interception on an overthrown ball. It was a great performance, and then that reminded me that although he isn’t the quickest corners and can get burned by speed receivers (Brown, Hixon, Jacoby Jones). He can still be effective using his intelligence and physicality.
Looking ahead, the Eagles will see these receivers in the second half of the year: Roddy White, Vincent Jackson, Marquez Colston, Dez Bryant, Mike Williams, and Hakeem Nicks. All of these receivers are playmakers who use route running and physicality rather than speed. I think Nnamdi can play anyone on this list and hopefully Bowles gives him the chance.
*Here’s a list of players we see who I hope Nnamdi never covers: Victor Cruz, Julio Jones, Steve Smith, and A.J. Green. To me these guys are either too fast and big or too quick and we’ll have to hope DRC is up to the challenge.
Up-LeSean McCoy (always)
Down-Brandon Boykin (candy bar corny but not unfounded)
Middle-Brent Celek (Fans love him and he’s made some big catches, but didn’t he basically cost the Eagles 2 TD against the Lions?)